Introduction: Alien Chestburster Puppet
Aliens bursting out of people's chests. Who doesn't love 'em?
This Alien* puppet was originally made as part of my deep"deep sea diver / alien victim"Halloween costume, but it was so time-consuming that I considered it a worthwhile standalone project in its own right.
I have seen various chestburster props and costumes before, but I think this one is unique for being mobile and able to actually burst out of your chest (or anywhere else you're willing to conceal your arm) rather than being permanently mounted in one position. And it freaks the heck out of cats, which is nice.
In this Instructable, I'll be illustrating some general principles that can be used for making all sorts of latex model, particularly puppets; I hope that it will be useful for anyone interested in experimenting with latex mouding.
To make your Alien, you're going to need a few things:
- Plasticine. Lots of it. More than enough to cover your whole forearm.
- A couple of plastic bottles roughly the width of your forearm or slightly smaller.
- Thin but stiff card, e.g. from a cereal box.
- Sticky tape.
- A few kilos of plaster. I recommend using specialist hard modelling plaster or resin plaster from an art supply shop for at least a kilo of this, but the rest can be generic plaster of Paris.
- Cotton stockinette or similar mesh-like material. You can use ready-made plaster of Paris bandages for this, if you happen to have them.
- Liquid moulding latex (about 2 litres).
- Baby powder or talcum powder.
- Paint. Latex paints if you want the paint job to last or watercolours if you don't mind repainting it each time you use it.
- Tools for sculpting. You don't need anything fancy, just something pointy and something slicy. Maybe something slightly rounded and blobby if you like.
- Old toothbrush.
- Paintbrush and/or airbrush
- Newspapers or plastic sheets to cover your work area. You will get messy. You'll also be producing quite a lot of unpleasant latex fumes, so it's best to work in a well-ventilated area where the smell won't bother anyone else.
Got everything you need? Splendid. The plan is to make your Alien out of plasticine first, cast a negative mould in plaster, then use that to cast the final latex puppet. OK? Let's get sculpting your little monstrosity.
Recommended listening: You've got a friend in me or I've got you under my skin.
*I'll continue to capitalise this word to distinguish it from other aliens which aren't based on the wonderful creations of H. R. Giger for the Alien film franchise. I'll also continue to spell lots of words in a slightly peculiar way because I'm British. Sorry.
Step 1: Begin Sculpting
Start by bending some strips of plasticine around your hand to judge the size and rough shape of what will eventually be the skull and jaw of your Alien. You're eventually going to have your hand inside a puppet-head of this size, so make sure it's comfortable. Join them together to make a sturdy basic head. Put this petite plasticine proto-puppet-head aside for now.
Fill the two plastic bottles with water and make sure they're sealed tightly. Having the bottles full gives them some ballast and makes them a lot easier to work with. Wrap a layer of plasticine around each bottle to make a tube. Don't remove the bottles.
In the image below, I've already sculpted some basic skin texture and body segments onto one of the the plasticine tubes. This will eventually form the lower body of the Alien. You don't have to do this yet if you'd rather get on with sculpting the fun bits.
Step 2: Attach the Head
Attach your plasticine head to one of your plasticine tubes, then add some more plasticine along the joins and squeeze the head into a slightly less spherical shape.
Smooth it down a little and build up the smooth plate at the rear of the skull until it starts to resemble something a bit scarier than Pac-Man on a stick.
Step 3: Add Details
Gradually add details to your Alien, attaching and removing plasticine as you need. Try to think creepy thoughts while you're doing this; if you're lucky, your sculpture will be imbued with some of your own sense of dread.
To make the ridged tubular structures, roll out long cylinders of plasticine then roll them again underneath a pencil or thin sculpting tool to leave uneven circular indentations.
Don't sculpt the teeth or the inside of the mouth yet, but try to imagine what these will eventually look like.
Hint: Teeth make it much scarier.
Step 4: Continue to Add Details
Carry on sculpting away.
There are plenty of chestburster images to be found online for reference, but there's nothing stopping you from giving it an entirely new style. I chose to give my chestburster arms, but you don't have to. In case you're worried about deviating from the Alien canon, the chestburster in the original film was armless but the ones in Aliens did have arms, so take your pick. The arms were very fiddly to make, but I think they give my Alien a touch more personality. They also allow him to wear a wristwatch or carry a small cane.
Remember that not all of the very fine detail will be captured in the final product. Mine looks a little bit furry in some of these photos, but it became a lot smoother by the time I'd cast it in latex.
Step 5: Extend the Body
Now you're going to need to empty the water from the plastic bottle inside your Alien. Over a sink, use scissors to poke a hole in the base of the bottle. Be careful not to let the plasticine get too wet.
Once the bottle's empty, cut the base away entirely and place your Alien on top of your other plasticine-wrapped bottle. Smooth over the seam and sculpt in some body segments if you haven't already.
Use the old toothbrush to brush any crumbs of plasticine out of your Alien's crevices.
You should now have a lovely tall Alien chestburster sculpture, roughly a cubit in length. Pat yourself on the back, take a photo and pour yourself a refreshing drink to celebrate. Now take a deep breath, because the next few steps are going to entirely destroy your beautiful work of plasticine art.
Be strong; it'll be worth it.
Step 6: Remove the Arms
Carefully amputate the limbs from your creation, if you saw fit to bestow limbs upon it in the first place. Try to sever them as neatly as possible so that they can be re-attached later*. Use an anaesthetic if you're feeling merciful.
Having the limbs attached to the body during the plaster casting stage would result in a very convoluted mould. Not only would it be hard to ensure a thorough coating of latex, but it would be almost impossible to extract the final puppet without seriously damaging your mould entirely - not ideal if you're hoping to make more than one copy of your puppet. Did I mention that latex Aliens make delightful Christmas and birthday presents?
*Actually, you will not be re-attaching these limbs to your Alien, but you will be attaching their latex duplicates to a latex duplicate of your Alien's body.
Step 7: Make a Dividing Wall
Before you coat your Alien in plaster, you'll need to consider how the plaster mould will fit together. I.e. You need to define a seam for the two (or more) segments of your puppet.
The way I designed my plasticine sculpture naturally lent itself to a seam running up the side of my Alien's body, behind its ridged neck tubes and along the underside of its smooth skull dome to its mouth. If your Alien resembles mine, I recommend doing the same.
I also recommend partially filling the mouth with plasticine so that you can remove the plasticine from the plaster once it has set. If this doesn't quite make sense to you, try thinking about the potential shape of your plaster mould; remember that it will be a negative of your plasticine Alien, so any thin protrusions of lip or jaw on your Alien will become small and fiddly cavities on your plaster mould. Save yourself trouble now by thinking ahead.
Once you've decided on a seam, define it clearly using scissors or a knife to make a shallow incision. Then, using lots of small segments of card taped together, build up a continuous dividing wall. Push the card firmly into the incision you've made along the seam to make sure it stays in place. Check that the dividng wall goes all the way around your Alien and try not to leave any gaps that plaster can drip through.
Step 8: Cover One Half in Plaster
Prepare your operating theatre, if you haven't already, by covering any vulnerable surfaces in plastic bags and old newspaper*.
Lay your patient on its back and wedge it in place with a few blobs of plasticine to make sure it doesn't roll around. Check that the dividing wall is still in place.
Mix your finest quality plaster and slap it onto one half of your Alien, being sure to spread it into all of the nooks and crannies so that you don't lose any detail to air bubbles.
If you're planning to use two different grades of plaster, be sure to use the good stuff for the surface that will be in contact with the plasticine. Once this has dried, reinforce it with several layers of the cheaper, more crumbly plaster.
Gradually build the plaster up into a sturdy structure by adding several layers. Dip some patches of stockinette or cotton mesh into wet plaster and use it to make the outer layers.
Where once your lovingly crafted Alien stood, a messy plaster blob should now lie. Don't worry: all is going to plan.
*In case you're unfamiliar with this concept, "newspaper" is the machine that provided novelty and distraction to people's homes before the internet came along. You can probably find one by asking an elderly relative or by looking in your local library**.
**An old-fashioned public server system. Somewhat inefficient for data retrieval by today's standards, but much quieter than most modern servers and with a better Help section.
Step 9: Plaster the Other Half
When the plaster has set and cooled, turn it over to expose the soft and fleshy rear of your Alien. This has probably taken a bit of damage from lying on its back underneath all of that plaster, so take some time to tidy it up and smooth out any dents. Give it another going-over with your toothbrush to remove any specks of plaster or plasticine that might have crept back in.
Tidy up the edge of the plaster mould by snapping or sawing off any unwanted blobs of plaster. Once you've done this, cover the exposed plaster with tape so that it doesn't stick to the second batch of plaster.
Now repeat the previous step to cover the second half of your Alien in plaster.
Once this has set and cooled, carefully separate the two halves of your plaster mould and scrape out all of the plasticine. You should be left with a two-part fossilised negative of your Alien.
Don't worry too much if you've managed to crack the mould by mistake, as you can usually repair it with glue and some carefully applied plaster.
Step 10: Plaster the Arms
What have you done with your Alien's arms? What, really? Well go and get them back. Yes, you need them. Got them? OK then.
Line your arm segments up and coat them with plaster, just as you did with the rest of the sculpture. As before, wait for the plaster to set fully before scraping out the plasticine.
Step 11: Sculpt the Inside of the Mouth
Time for some dental work.
Now that you have the negative mould of your Alien's head, you can design the inside of its mouth. Cut out two strips of plasticine roughly the width of your creature's head. Now, using the plaster moulds to judge the size, trim them to the right shape and size to form the roof and floor of the Alien's mouth. It may help to place one hand inside the plaster moulds while doing this, so you can feel just where these pieces will eventually fit when you're wearing the puppet.
Once you have the basic shapes of the inner mouth's two halves, add some detail. I gave the roof of the mouth a slightly ridged palate and the floor of the mouth a roughened tongue.
The piece forming the floor of the mouth will eventually be folded back on itself to join up with the roof of the mouth and form the back of the throat, which will stop people seeing your hand when you're operating the puppet. Notice how I've extended the floor of the mouth backwards to suggest a palatine uvula and given this extended flap it a ridged texture to match the roof.
Most importantly, give your Alien teeth! Make regular indentations in the gums with your finger and then roll little cones of plasticine to fit onto them. Grr, argh!
Step 12: Make a Dental Record
Now cast plaster negatives from your two mouth sections, just as you did with the body and the arms.
To make sure I captured all of the detail without damaging the fragile teeth, I placed the plasticine in a box and poured very runny plaster all around it.
Once the plaster has set, scrape out the plasticine.
Step 13: Get Messy With Latex
Good news! The hard part's over! If you've made it this far without too many problems, you're in for a smooth ride the rest of the way.
Give your plaster moulds a firm but gentle scrub with your old toothbrush to get rid of any loose bits of plaster or plasticine, being careful not to do any damage to the moulds themselves.
Let's have a quick think about how you want to use your different moulds.
For the arms and the mouth, you want to produce components which are made of solid latex rather than hollow shells of latex. This will give the arms some rigidity in the final puppet and allow the inner mouth to provide some structural support to the rest of the head.
For the body, however, you don't want to make one solid piece of latex. Not only would this require several litres of latex (and take forever to dry), it would produce a hand puppet with no room inside for a hand. Instead, you're going to build up the walls of the body and head using several layers of latex painted onto the inside of your moulds.
Now that you have a mental picture of what you're going to do, open up your bottle of latex and appreciate its delicate aroma.
When you've recovered from that, take a paintbrush and rub some dishwashing liquid into its bristles. This should stop the latex from ruining your brush entirely, but it's probably still safer not to use your favourite paintbrush for this.
Pour a little latex into a body mould and tilt the mould back and forth to spread the latex around. If there are any places from where the latex will obviously leak, plug those holes up with plasticine.
Use the soapy paintbrush to spread latex into all of the fine features of the plaster mould. The latex will naturally pool in some places, so make sure to spread it up the walls of the mould as much as you can. You're only applying a first layer, remember, so it's better to use too little than too much.
Once you've coated the inside of one body mould with latex, do the same for the other. Leave them in a warm place to dry. This can take a day or two, depending how much latex you've used.
Once the first layer is dry, apply a second layer and reposition the moulds so that the latex does not always pool in the same places. In this manner, apply at least four layers of latex, allowing each layer to dry fully before starting the next. Yes, I realise that's going to take a long time. I'm genuinely sorry. You could speed up the process by using a fan or a hairdryer. If necessary, use self-hypnosis to shorten your subjective waiting periods.
Step 14: Easy Pouring of Latex
The arms and mouth moulds are much easier to deal with. Just fill them up with latex and wait for them to dry.
It's possible that you'll end up with fluid-filled cavities of latex forming as the outside dries faster than the inside. If this is the case, just puncture the cavities with a sharp knife to let the fluid out.
If you feel the latex is shrinking too much as it dries, just top it up and wait for it to dry again.
Step 15: Hatch Your Alien
When all the latex is dry, it's time to remove your Alien from its various coffins.
First, dust all of the latex with baby powder. This prevents it from sticking to itself as you pull it out. I cannot emphasise how much aggravation this will save you. Do not skip this step.
Then, carefully peel all of your Alien body parts out of their moulds.
Step 16: Trim and Glue
Trim the ragged pieces of latex from all of your Alien's body parts. Don't trim right up to the edges, though, as it helps to have some excess latex flaps when you glue the pieces together.
Start by supergluing the mouth segments into the body segments. Superglue dissolves and re-sticks latex in a matter of seconds, so apply it carefully. Try on your new Alien-skin hand garments to make sure they fit.
Step 17: Assemble the Mouth
With one hand inside the almost-puppet, position the mouth segments in a comfortable arrangement for puppeteering. Once you're happy with how they look and feel, glue the flap at the rear of the lower mouth segment to the roof of the mouth.
Step 18: Glue the Body Together
Go down the rest of the body, gluing the seams together.
Grin wildly, for you have created life.
Step 19: Add Some Paint
Paint your Alien however you like.
As mentioned before, you can use either watercolours or latex paints. Watercolours are much cheaper and more readily available, but will smudge very easily and are not good at producing opaque colours. Latex paints are long-lasting and expensive. Ideally, take the time to paint an undercoat, then airbrush on the details with latex paint to achieve a smooth, natural-looking finish.
Personally, I used watercolours so that I can try out a few different colour schemes. You know, something low-key and monotone for formal occasions, then something a bit wackier for the weekends.
Latex tends to dry irregularly in colours that range from off-white to quite deep orangey-red, all of which suit an Alien chestburster, quite well. I found that just painting the teeth white and adding a few splashes of blood gave quite a good effect.
Step 20: Name Your Alien
Give your Alien a name and practise moving it around in a natural and terrifying manner.
Why not make yourself a false arm and hide the puppet inside your jacket on your real arm, so that it can jump out at people? If such shenanigans interest you, please check out my full Halloween costume tutorial.
Other fun places from which to spring your Alien:
-- A pile of dirty clothes.
-- A cupboard.
-- Under the bed.
-- Under the duvet (I wonder if I could re-enter this in the Valentine's Day contest...).
-- Beneath the surface of a muddy pond (SCUBA equipment required).
Other suggestions for uses are more than welcome!
Here's a video of the puppet in action. I forgot to upload the video before the deadline of the Halloween contest, so I doubt it's eligible for the Video category, but I still thought people might enjoy it.
Video made in Windows Live Movie Maker, music by Grand Drive.